My American Dream: 2. Shit, Bitch, Tits.

by Harijan

[Picture of me standing in front of classroom full of 13 year olds]

In case you didn’t already know, phonemes are the basic sound blocks which form the acoustic basis of all spoken language.

On one hand, most languages share a basic collections of phonemes – sounds which are common in all languages. On the other hand, each language had its own set of phonemes, which give it a distinct sound or “accent.” For instance, the Korean language lacks certain phonemes, which the American English speaker uses on a daily basis – sounds such as “ee, sh, and th.”

I have lived in United States for 16 years, and am about to graduate from medical school in 3 weeks. But even to this day, I have trouble enunciating “sip”, “seep”, “ship”, and “sheep” differently.

You might say, “it’s not a big deal. People understand what you mispronounce from context, right?”

No, it’s not a big deal.

Unless you’re a pimply 14-year-old Korean kid, and you have to say the words “sheet”, “beach” and “teeth” in a room full of 8th graders. Those words come out as “shit”, “bitch”, and “tits”.

Then it’s the biggest deal ever.

It was in a middle school English class; my family was living in Maryland at this time – not even a year into our American life. I haven’t made a whole lot of progress with the spoken English. I was extremely shy at this time because of this.

My English teacher was determined to have me speak in front of the classroom. She told me to talk about what I did that past weekend. I really did not want to do it, but I knew it was not really an option. She said she was trying to help me get over my shyness, but I knew she was going to break me.

It first began with my heart. Even before I got up from my desk, I could see my chest pounding through my t-shirt. My hands got sweaty, and my legs turned rubber. I was not feeling well, when I noticed that I had stopped breathing. I had to manually breath if that makes sense at all.

I looked at my classmates.

The only ones who looked eager to listen were the mean ones who would laugh at the first opportunity. Were it was a trial by jury, that would have been grounds for dismissal. However, an eighth grade English class is much more cruel than the criminal justice system.

Now, I have learned the trick to speaking a foreign language: think in the language you plan to speak in. I had yet to learn this though. That day, I had to compose my thoughts in Korean, translate into English, and then say it. It happened such that my family had gone out to the beach that prior weekend, so I decided to talk about that.

“Rast weekend…”

“my famiry…”

“car…”

“go to…”

My teacher interrupted, “my family drove car to.”

“Rast weekend…”

“my famiry…”

“dorive?”

My teacher again, “yes, my famiry drove car to.”

“Rast weekend…”

“my famiry…”

dorive…”

“car…”

“to…”

“the bitch.”

I finished my first sentence. A true sucess by any means!

I started thinking about what to say next, ‘Aujin and I had caught crabs at the beach.’ Before I had time to translate, the whole class erupted. Some were laughing. Others were pointing finger directly at me while saying, “oooooo, you’re in trouble!”

I did not know that there was another word which resembled “beach” in sound or that this word mean “qualities belonging to a female dog.”

I was innocent, and the eight graders let me have it despite that. The teacher was helpless herself, and the teacher from next door came by to check on the commotion. I thought I was going to die right there; I certainly wouldn’t have objected to a heart attack. My heart kept pumping. I was going to survive. Nietzsche was right. God was dead.

Everything became detached, and I had an out of body experience where I thought I saw myself from the ceiling in back of the classroom. I was looking down on the floor, and my face was lit up.

I don’t remember how I got back into my body, nor back to my chair for that matter. All I remember is that the humiliation continued long afterwards. I felt that everyone was watching the back of my head.

I laid my head on the desk between my elbows and waited for the moment to pass.

So that’s “Bitch.”

I would tell “Shit” and “Tits”, but it’s basically the same story – I said something I didn’t mean to say, and people had a good laugh.

Shit.

I had a good laugh, too.

Mine were just about ten years later than theirs.

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